Cooking for a cause: Police department cook-off raises funds to help children

HARLINGEN — Julie Ng-Castillo savored the slice of barbecue chicken as she chewed softly.

“It’s delicious, just delicious,” she said, considering carefully the flavors and how they compared to other entries.

She was one of many judges yesterday afternoon sampling not only chicken but also slices of brisket, ribs, fajitas, beans and dessert. Flavors emanating from recipes known only to their creators filled the hot summer day outside Bass Pro Shop.

The parking lot outside the store at 101 Bass Pro Drive was filled with 46 cooking teams. They’d each paid entry fees to enter the Harlingen Police Department’s 2nd Annual IBCA BBQ Cook-Off.

The cook-off was held to raise money for Cameron County Children’s Advocacy Center/Monica’s and Maggie’s House.

Everyone seemed happy with the turnout.

“It’s outstanding,” said Police Chief Jeffry Adickes. “It’s a bigger turnout than we anticipated. This is the first time we’ve hosted this for Monica’s House and Maggie’s House.”

The event was actually held the first time last year, but this year the police took the reigns.

“We want to be able to write a good check,” he said, declining to say exactly how much money had been raised.

Monica’s House and Maggie’s House specialize in conducting videotaped interviews of children between the ages of 2 and 17 who have experienced trauma. They may have been physically or sexually abused. They may have suffered neglect or witnessed a violent crime.

The funds raised yesterday will fill a critical need, said Anna De La Cruz, executive director.

“It’s definitely important because as a nonprofit agency our funding goes back to assist victims,” De La Cruz.

She spoke with great optimism amid smells of fresh brisket and fajitas being sampled by judges troubled with the task before them. Live music rushed from a nearby stage where the bands Bison, The Cosmic Kings and Los Federales were scheduled to play.

Like all successful fundraisers, the event provided a way to have fun while promoting a good cause.

“It’s going well,” said City Commissioner Victor Leal, one of the judges.

“I got to judge the dessert and I got to sample some of the fajitas,” he said excitedly.

Ng-Castillo pondered carefully the entries she was sampling. Like many of the other judges, she would have difficulty determining which entry would win.

“I’m liking the moistness, the herbs and spices and the visual appearance,” she said.

She then thought more of the fundraiser itself.

“I love it,” she said, thinking of the mission of Monica’s and Maggie’s House.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to help them and to support the police department,” she said.

The cooking teams also enjoyed the opportunity for some company and camaraderie. They were spread across the parking lot after spending hours cooking their entries.

“We like to barbecue; we like to compete,” said Mario Benavidez, owner of Chillin’ N’ Grillin’.

While some restaurants had come to participate, other teams were simply groups of cooking aficionados.

“We are submitting fajitas, chicken, ribs and brisket,” said Oscar Cortez, a member of one team. They now sat casually in the shade enjoying the afternoon.

What was special about their recipes?

“We try to keep it Texas style,” Cortez said. “We like to keep a little sweet in the bite.”

Adickes hoped the event would be the “signature” event for the Harlingen Police Department among others such as the 5K “Run for the Heroes.”

Curious, perhaps this can give a new spin to the nature of activism and good will, when even cooks become the heroes for the day. They spend long hours preparing their entries with the first cause in mind being the welfare of children in crisis mode.